Rothe House

Rothe House, Kilkenny


This very fine stone building was excavated by Neil O'Flanagan in 1993 prior to its reconstruction by the Office of Public Works. For several years it housed the Heritage Council of Ireland. The building was in poor condition and the purpose of the excavation was to establish what light the features at ground level could throw on its evolution.

The house was part of a complex of three buildings begun in 1594 and completed by 1619 at the latest. They were built at the request of John Rothe, who belonged to one of the prominent families of Kilkenny before the Cromwellian invasion in 1649. A will drawn up by John Rothe in 1619 describes the house, and notes its great fireplace and 'gyle', or brew house. Much of the complex was bequeathed to his son Peter, but the last, 'third house', was left to his wife Rose. This latter house was the subject of the investigation.

The investigation focussed on the interior of the building where the original foundations of re-deposited boulder clay survived. On top of the clay lay several slim limestone slabs, indicating the nature of the floor. Above it, a grooved corbel on the back wall suggested that the ground floor was partitioned at this point.

A small area to the rear of the house was excavated, exposing a small trench and posthole associated with the construction of the back wall. It was evident that a bed of re-deposited clay had been laid over the natural sand and gravel prior to the construction of the building.


Foundation Trench, Rothe House


Another portion of ground in front of the house was excavated yielding evidence for an earlier stone lined well dating to Anglo-Norman times. The well was partitioned and filled with detritus sometime in the 14th century. The well remained in use, however, and over two hundred years later a fine hooded well was constructed over it. This hooded well is still in existence and can be seen in the courtyard beside the house. The gable is inscribed

'1604 Pray for the souls of John Rothe merchant and his wife Rose Archer who built this structure'

The fill of the well was excavated to a depth of several metres yielding finds from a period before Rothe House. The finds included a range of pottery types originating in the Saintonge, Caen/Rouen, and Beauvais regions of France. The pottery underlined the French associations of the medieval city builders. The Norman regime spanned both sides of the English channel, and provided links with the wider European world. The first wave of development in the 13th century saw the construction of St Canice's Cathedral, the town walls. Within the walls of the town, and under the imposing spire of the cathedral the oligarchical regime of the Rothes, Shees, and Archers et al flourished until the collapse of the monarchy in the 1650's.